Pathaan is a smartly designed spectacle

Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone in Pathaan Photo: Yash Raj Films

From Zero to hero—the third man in YRF’s spy universe after Tiger (Salman Khan) and Kabir (Hrithik Roshan in War), Pathaan (Shah Rukh Khan) gets what might be called a comeback role—he is all out to entertain, thanks to his producer, director and scriptwriters in a film as saucy, sassy and spicy as any Hollywood actioners that have clearly inspired Siddharth Anand (Bang Bang!—an official remake of Knight And Day, War) and his abovementioned writing team.

As an entertainer, Pathaan scores big-time, especially in terms of today’s tastes where spectacle outclasses requirements of logic or cerebral thought. Pitch the emotions right (patriotism, gratitude to both mother and motherland) and add the grandeur, scale and impossible level of action, and you are home.

The film rests on the reaction of an angry Pakistani officer, General Qadir (Manish Wadhwa), who must bring “India to its knees” after the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir in 2019. We are now treated to an extensive flashback until the story returns to 2022 for a brisk culmination. The climactic end to the villain, Jim (John Abraham), of course, as shown too frequently in the film, comes after an incredible blow-fest between him and the patriotic hero.

And of course, do not miss the post-credit titles conversation between Pathaan and another master-spy that is hugely amusing, though others may find it condescending towards all others in what is actually a motivated and massive ego-trip!

The screenplay employs every trick in the spy-meets-patriotic arsenal: a container of deadly virus, terrorist outfits globally, the official disdain towards a covert intelligence agency, chases on land, snow and air, emotional back-stories of the hero and the villain, a ticking detonator of a deadly virus, target missiles, a scientist being forced to work against his will, betrayals, intensely patriotic soldiers and, obviously, cheesecake whenever possible.

The complete package, however, is nothing short of a pageant as it globe-trots in its frenzied pace through Dubai, Spain, Afghanistan, France and Russia with never-seen-before locations that compensate for the extravagantly illogical happenings being shown.

Pathaan is an orphan of unknown parentage who says that his motherland nurtured him, while an Afghan woman named him Pathaan after a heroic act. The villain, Jim, has been a key part of RAW until he went rogue following the murder of his pregnant wife. The heroine is Rubina (Deepika Padukone), an ISI agent who has a conscience.

With such specifics, we see political pacifism as there is no aim at making any religion or nation look evil. Of course, the most vital question is left hanging in the air—if at all the thought crosses a viewer’s mind: how did General Qadir take such a key decision of a proxy biological war against India singlehandedly? What about the massive funding required?

Each of the three protagonists get carefully designed entries that will elicit whistles and apllause: Jim, Rubina (as a bare-all nymphet in Spain) and Pathaan, who is undergoing torture when he breaks free and batters all. In short, every scene and sequence is clearly inspired, but is so smartly interpolated within the 146-minute movie that we overlook all in the no-moment-to-think pace. The music is restricted to Besharam rang’s languid catchiness—Jhoome re Pathaan is forgettable. The background score by Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara is overloud (as heard in the IMAX hall where I watched the film) but serviceable.

A million pats to the cinematographer (Satchith Paulose) and the editor (Aarif Shaikh) for their role in making the entertainer score high. And Rajat Poddar’s production design is also first-rate.

Shah Rukh Khan’s new looks suit his age and his no-holds-barred intense action merged with his trademark wry yet passionate romanticism and dry humor takes us back to the Main Hoon Na days when he last toyed a role with intelligence (as in its spy connotation). He continues his upward swing as an actor that he has been doing ever since his films began falling by the wayside—yes, even Zero.

Deepika Padukone, too, continues to grow as an artiste but must now move away from excessive glamour and skin-show (Gehraiyaan preceded this) and travel the Priyanka Chopra-Alia Bhatt way to retain her chimera. John Abraham does well, but, again, there is a déjà-vu of Yash Raj Film’s Dhoom, again a 2004 film like Main Hoon Na. He gets some decent one-liners though, thanks to dialogues writer Abbas Tyrewala, who wrote and directed the catastrophic Jhootha Hi Sahi with him. Of course, Abbas has come a long way from his strong lines in Munna Bhai MBBS. Co-writer Shridhar Raghavan, too, has also gone further into escapist zone (as in War) after his cerebral and phenomenal work in the TV all-timer show, CID.

A complete and welcome surprise is Dimple Kapadia as Pathaan’s boss—in her brief (but substantial, unlike Brahmastra) role, she gives us whiffs of her finest performances from films as varied as Bobby, Insaaf, Aitbaar, Rudaali and more. Her final scene is a killer. Ashutosh Rana reprises her role as Col. Luthra from War.

Oh, by the way, do not miss the cross-reference to Yash Raj Films’ first film with Shah Rukh—the super-successful Darr. It is hilarious.

Rating: ***1/2

Yash Raj Films present Pathaan Produced by: Aditya Chopra  Directed by: Siddharth Anand  Written by: Siddharth Anand, Shridhar Raghavan & Abbas Tyrewala  Music: Vishal-Sheykhar Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone, Dimple Kapadia, Ashutosh Rana, Ekta Kaul, Manish Wadhwa, Aakash Bathija




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